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October 17, 2010

I saw a unicorn named Diop tonight

 I was there the night Gana Diop blocked six shots, made all his shots from the field and made two passes that led to assists.

I always wondered what it would be like to see a unicorn. I think I just did.

Diop has been a punchline the past year. On performance, he deserved it, but let me tell you something: If there's a better guy in that locker room -- and this is the best locker room I've covered in 21 NBA seasons -- I don't know who it would be.

You don't think Gana knows people ridicule him? If he became bitter and surly and introverted, who could blame him? But even when he never got a uniform, when he wasn't activated for the playoff series to give fouls on Dwight Howard, he was gracious and classy.

And then, when Larry Brown described all his flaws in their post-season meeting, when Brown later told the local media "quite frankly, he's untradeable,'' Diop treated this as a challenge, rather than persecution.

He took it to heart, realized he wasn't doing enough to earn playing time, and spent from May to September trying to remake his body. No one would call him sculpted now, but it's also obvious that he's in basketball shape, able to get to where he needs to be without automatically fouling.

The most interesting thing about all this is, if Gana just does what he already has (forget learning to be a factor offensively), he's exactly what Larry craves, but doesn't have.

Brown admires Nazr Mohammed for Mohammed's refusal to be cast off. And Mohammed will have a role on this team no matter what, because of how he earned Brown's respect. But in some ways, Diop is much more what Brown envisions as a center.

Brown wants and needs someone who can protect the rim, both by blocking shots and threatening to block shots. Let me tell you with complete conviction that by the end of this game the Pistons were looking over their shoulders on any drive to the basket, so as not to find Diop slapping away their deliveries.

Diop is not that mobile guy who can blow up a screen-and-roll away from the lane. And he's not a viable scorer, as Mohammed can be. But he was a factor Saturday the way he hasn't been since he disconnected Tim Duncan years ago in Dallas. That's promising.

 I'd like to think I'll see that unicorn again. I just don't know.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 17, 2010 at 01:30 AM | Permalink


Diop is a slight step down from Chandler, but he has the same skill set. His biggest problem is at the free throw line. LB lights to start the game with a defensive Center. Diop will likely start with Nazr coming off the bench. We will finish games with the best 5 on the court, which often won't include either Diop or Nazr. All of the above is subject to change, because LB likes to make the big trades.

Posted by: 3rd Leg | Oct 17, 2010 10:53:05 AM

Thanks Rick, nice post! Wouldn't it be sweet if Diop made the same type of turn around this year that Mohammed did last year?

Posted by: TheDorkLord | Oct 17, 2010 3:15:34 PM

"oh you went platinum....yea that's nice...
now let me see you do the same thing twice
three times, four times
then a couple of more times"©nas

seriously though, if this guy pulls a nazr this year and turns into the defensive force he was pre-contract in dallas, we are going to be in a much better situation. it's a start.

Posted by: charlottean | Oct 17, 2010 8:25:53 PM

Great observations. I wish more sportswriters would take note of the human side of professional sports. That is, what you've pointed out as Diop's response to ridicule by fans, media, even by Larry Brown's statements. Naturally, people, not only atheletes but anybody, doesn't respond well to criticism. Whether Diop has a break through season or not, his offseason work seems to have showed he's not sulky.

In terms of criticism toward pro athletes, I think we often forget that they are trying to do their best and the pressure to succeed is really really high. I mean really, if I had a crowd of people hating every time I messed up an order at Home Depot, I would probably be bitter.

Posted by: Nate | Oct 18, 2010 11:32:13 AM

Wow. Now he's getting his kids to post comments on his blogs. Rick Bonnell, ladies and gentleman!!

"I tink I saw a unicorn!" Really? Really? Is that like "I tink I saw a puttycat!".

Where did you guys get your sportswriters at? I've seen small town markets with better coverage. Hey kids, I hope your dad gives a nice allowance for posting to try and shore up dad's shabby writing!

Posted by: Downtown Sports | Oct 18, 2010 2:24:24 PM

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